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2

It is rare that one needs to speak up as an atheist and disown the speech or behavior of other atheists as communal hatred. Atheists are usually the smallest minority anywhere and where there is communal violence, they are usually on the receiving end, so the question of atheists being perpetrators of communal hatred rarely arises. There is the occasional Dawkins outrage, but it is not so relevant to India. However, there is extremism among atheists as well and today seems to be a good occasion to condemn and disown it as well.

Atheists often argue that there is no collective belief system called atheism. It is merely a lack of belief in God. It is true as far as it is a question of extrapolating the actions of one to others. However, the label itself confers a certain amount of shared traits - notably a stated disbelief in god. And while disbelief is an absence, the issue in extremism is rarely the belief or lack of it, it is the fervor in making the statement and imposing views on others. Atheists can cross the line between stating disbelief in god and religion to attacking a community based on their beliefs.

Like the beliefs of two atheists may have nothing in common, the beliefs of ISIS may have little in common with other Muslims as well. All atheists believe there is no God. That word play on disbelief being a lack of belief is well and good, it is also a belief about that lack. We aren't merely considering that there may be no God given the lack of evidence or that God is an unproven claim. We are certain that there isn't any God. We are not open to the possibility that there may be one (those are the agnostics). We aren't interested in exploring the possibility and potentially invalidating our claims. We define God by what we reject and ignore any interpretations of God that are saner. We are certain and see no need to contemplate alternatives as potentially viable.

Muslims believe there is one God and it is Allah and Mohammed is his messenger. Hindus have a diverse array of beliefs that can encompass countless gods or none. Christians believe there is one God and Jesus Christ is his son and so on. As an atheist, I must say there being no god is the logical conclusion of a contemplation of God as a sentient, omnipotent being. Belief in imaginary friends is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as it doesn't lead to denial that prevents well being. One simply projects what one believes is the best onto an imaginary external figure and gives it the authority we don't feel confident claiming as ourselves. I know there are lots that define God in a manner that makes sense to them and stay away from intentions and super powers. Indeed, a vivid imagination is necessary to creativity. I am sure, there are benefits. To others. I don't see the value.

No matter what a religious book says, the extent to which it is complied to by people always varies and the extent to which atheists engage with their disbelief also varies. For many, like me, it is a non-issue. God is absent. It doesn't take any space in daily life unless there is a requirement to analyze or discuss or state. Encountering someone expressing belief creates no urge to validate my own belief through convincing them into disbelief - a very similar process as seen in believers who tend to get you to believe in their Gods. It is no concern of mine whether you prefer God to Mickey Mouse. There are atheists who are more radical. They will not tolerate you being irrational and will strive to get you to .... um... see the light. Heck, there are atheist fundamentalists who won't tolerate "moderates" like me and expect us to do more to counter claims of God. To what end, I have no idea. Waste time over a non-existing creature even when fully aware it doesn't exist? What for?

Free Speech is a fundamental right. It is a bit dinged in India legally, and further butchered in practice. There are limitations by law or processes of engaging with the state. But apart from larger processes that are a part of belonging to an organized country, state, city, locality, home, etc that are established and a consequence of our social contract, while we do no harm to another, the assumption is that we have a legal right to speak, act and behave as we wish without being subject to impositions, limitations or harm. The rules are the same for all. Even when the laws have flaws and restrictions - typically those covering blasphemy - the understanding is that they are known to people up front and they apply to all (needless to say they get enforced with religious bias almost everywhere they exist). These are usually always facing a challenge, and rightfully so because they infringe on the right of disbelievers and critics to state their own views.

Free speech for atheists and in congruence with their "beliefs" typically ignores prohibitions on blasphemy where they exist and naturally includes the right to disagree about religion and God, to state their disbelief, to criticize the beliefs of other religions, including revered figures. We gleefully say, we are ok with you doing the same. Quite liberating, it is, to have nothing to defend. Turns out, the larger problem with religion - fundamentalist and communal violence - is a human trait and atheists are not immune to it either.

Communal hatred is not about our views or opinions - which in my view are acceptable regardless of being offensive. It is about people. It is the tantrum of the child being told there is no Santa. It is the tantrum of the child who proves Santa is better by calling Spiderman stupid, except these are adults with real power to inflict harm and when at the end of their ability to convince someone that Santa is better, are perfectly capable of harming someone for thinking Spiderman is better. Harm is not always physical. It can be emotional, social, economic. And when it targets the socially vulnerable and allies with others attacking them, it threatens to splinter social coherence for all.

There isn't any rational critique of religion when you comment on brutal ISIS beheadings that Muslims are taught to slaughter at an early age. You are simply letting your hatred for the Muslim community blind you into thinking of them as a monolith that acts in a manner you have associated in your mind with the worst of Muslims you hate. It isn't a rational critique of Hinduism to say Hindus burn their wives on funeral pyres or stigmatize widows. It is stereotyping of an entire community and reducing them to nothing but the nasty attributes you give them. It is not recognizing them as individuals, not even recognizing a diversity of compliance with your arbitrarily assigned trait.

And this is where atheism has its own brand of extremism and communal hate. It is a matter of rationality, whether our criticism is a logical evaluation of something or a statement of own belief or a statement of unfounded beliefs about other people (also known as fake news, if media does it). The last is not a fundamental right. I don't actually have a right to call you a scammer and hound you, taking every opportunity to discredit you and cause you emotional and possibly professional and economic harm from the consequences of my selectively interpreting your actions to fit my projection of you as a scam artist. That is stalking and harassment.

Just like knowing one atheist doesn't mean you know what all atheists do, selectively picking one Muslim or Hindu fanatic and calling all Muslims or Hindus fanatics based on that is the sign of an irrational mind that speaks more about paranoid delusions than skepticism or disbelief. Where does this hate come from?

Well, a lot of it from human nature. Unlike most identities associated with belief or a lack of belief, atheists are unique in the sense of their lack of belief having originated from different places and as a result of different circumstances. Some born to non-religious families are too.... vacant on the subject of belief to even qualify as atheists - they are more in the zone of that measuring scale not being relevant to them. Many others are a product of losing belief in a specific religion and its Gods and then learning to apply it to other gods. The religion of their origin can have a lot of anger or trauma attached to it, because they have suffered the disillusionment from it. In many cases, they may have suffered persecution as a result of it. Additionally, they may have stopped believing, but their experience as an insider gives them a unique insight into that religion and culture which allows them to make a more vigorous criticism of that religion more than others.

For example, I am no fan of Islam, but I can take it or leave it unless someone harms another. When they do act like absolute idiots, it still hurts me less than when Hindus do it. Because as someone born a Hindu Brahmin and who lacked belief in both religion and caste, but grew immersed in the culture, my own identity is mired in it. I know enough of the religion to hold a visceral anger against fundamentalists as those who enact the worst characteristics of the religion - that anger is a result of the betrayal of my painstakingly adopted values at the hands of the religion, not my lack of belief, which in itself is no reason for any particular emotion. That anger is because the acts of that brand of extremism caused me to have to reinvent my core identity as distinct from my roots. To consciously distance myself from aspects that I learned to feel ashamed of when I examined what the things I unthinkingly assumed to be "truth". In contrast, I don't feel anything about Islam. I haven't invested anything in it to feel cheated. I feel some for Buddhism because I spent half a decade as a part of a Buddhist family, so again, that feels like home culture and any wrong perpetrated in its name would make me feel violated. This will continue till I make my peace with it mentally. It is part of being human. Learning to recognize these influences rather than being an unthinking slave to them is a part of our philosophical evolution.

Similarly, Taslima Nasreen or Tarek Fatah (two ex-Muslim atheists) are vicious in their attacks on Islam and Muslims. I can understand that. They have had their trust broken by Islam. Taslima has been exiled from the country of her birth (and I think Tarek moved away on his own before they decided they didn't want him back). Needless to say, both have got plenty to be angry about on a personal level.

The problems arise when you believe your "insider" status as someone who was once a Muslim or Hindu gives you a unique insight into the case, but it actually isn't so and it is your hostility with the religion preventing you from seeing the observable reality. For example, like many upper caste Hindu men too fought for the rights of women and caste equality and widow remarriage, many Muslims are non-violent (to the point of being vegans), gentle, insightful souls. The vast majority of any identity is rarely acting in any manner similar to the extremist stereotype. In fact, extremists of all sorts have more in common with each other than the various identities they hijack. This is actually a no-brainer. if you take any diverse collective, the minute you stray the slightest from the definition of that collective, you stop being able to accurately describe its constituents. If an accurate description were possible, it would have already been included in the meaning of the word. And often, even the actual definition doesn't really fit.

Most people are born into their religion and had to do nothing, in particular, to "accept" it. So even core beliefs like "all Muslims believe in one God who is Allah" are actually up for debate depending on their conditioning. Most people aren't excessively religious and often kids grow up without any major belief and they are of the religion simply because that is part of the traditions of the family they belong to. Such a person may actually spend less part of their day thinking of their religion and what some holy book teaches than an atheist from it with a grudge or a zealous follower of another religion, who seeks validation of his beliefs being "right" by somehow proving others "wrong".

Regardless, there is a line. Atheism or rationalism cannot be the shoulder to fire guns of communal hatred from. Unlike religion, rationalism is not an identity, but a trait. If you make an irrational argument, sorry, you aren't being "a rationalist" no matter what you claim. Atheism is a lack of belief in God, not a set of beliefs about people who believe in that god.

Exploiting atheism and rationalism to conceal deep rooted hatred of specific communities is living in denial. There are terms - Islamophobia. Hindutvawadis recently helpfully invented "Hinduphobia". Use them.

Not atheism. Not rationalism. Not in my name.

6

Precognition has always fascinated man. That power of knowing what will happen and harnessing it to live with the insight of hindsight. From reading tea leaves to fingerprints and stars to numbers, mankind has pretty much stretched the limit of wishful thinking. Countless attempts to provide proofs that such knowledge exists range from seeing prophesies in texts to peudo scientific claptrap.

India has perfected this into an art form with an abundance of babas and fakirs and what nots with their own "brand" that followers claim to be the true one. There isn't the least attempt to apply any critical thinking, and attempts to ask too many questions can lead to anger. It is almost like people want that reassurance, even suspecting it is meaningless, because it brings comfort. The only good thing about it is that it is probably a better choice than drinking away troubles and about as useful.

We have elected ministers gracing the walls of various Ashrams and this can mean anything from looking away as lands get encroached and party trick miracles to adamant refusals to believe rape victims of exploiting gurus. Other ministers have been known to promote bogus objects that are little better than gift items for far more money by promising great health, wealth and etc.

The Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti, an anti-superstition organization has time and again challenged these bogus practices by bringing in the spirit of critical inquiry (and downright criticism) and has led to embarrassment for the astrologers when bright futures were predicted on the horoscope of a child dead within hours of birth. Other challenges include predicting poll results (which could possibly be done with available political insight as well?), asking for astrologers to participate in double blind studies on the effectiveness of astrology or plain old making a point with kundali (horoscope) burning events. It wasn't funny when Dabholkar got killed though.

And that is the crux of the issue. Most of the religious cults and business babas are big money, thug power and with tremendous political backing (useful for votes). While the common man is scandalized by irreverence, the scams couldn't last without organized brainwashing and sometimes pretty severe retaliations as Sanal Edamaruku discovered when he found the church hounding him after he exposed that the "miraculous water" seeping trough the feet of an idol of Jesus was actually drainage water being pulled by capillary action (in other words, normal seepage, except that here was an idol involved).

There are many cults determined to counter any rationalist movements that threaten their control over the masses through gibberish. Hindu Janjagruti Samiti is another example of such an organization. Their website is a revelation in invented hate propaganda, and a campaign to fight the anti-superstition bill.

And it is high time people asked for their brains back.

You mean planets floating around in the sky decide my life, and I'm the idiot working hard to make it how I want? Try again. Harder.

Don't tell me about the moon influencing tides being an example. The moon may influence tides all it wants, but my plumbing isn't affected by it. I have yet to have a day for stronger water flow on the full moon and regardless of what's happening inside anyone else's heads, believe me, I don't have blood and brains sloshing around inside waiting to lean toward the side of my head where the moon is. Everything is packed and in position like it should be, thank you very much.

astrological mosaic from Israel
Astrology is a group of systems, traditions, and beliefs in which knowledge of the relative positions of celestial bodies and related details is held to be useful in understanding, interpreting, and organizing information about personality, human affairs, and other terrestrial matters.

I see all this belief and wonder how education is limited to books, and not applied to anything it has not been recommended for.

Let's do a quick exercise. Remember your life. Great. Did you remember EVERYTHING? Obviously not. You remembered stuff that stuck in your memory. What happened to the rest? What about that lunch you had exactly 10 years ago? What was the menu? Chances are, you will not remember. Astrological miracles are like that, as are personality profiles and other forecasts. Most of them are vague enough to fit in with most people, who in glorious self-centered bliss imagine that they are the only ones who fit the bill so perfectly. Obviously, the words are designed to feel good. Therefore, Mr. Astrologer is credible. Huh?

And what of those silly goof ups he foretold, or read in your behaviour? Well.... you don't really find them remarkable do you? So like that lunch 10 years ago, they're gone.... somewhere in the bottomless storehouse of the brain, not to be reclaimed in all likelihood. So now what? Perfectly credible Mr. Astrologer has a very high rate of accuracy to boot.

The final selling point is of course in his unshakable belief in your value as a person. The qualities you see in yourself being reflected in his words...... Do you honestly have ANY clue on how many people think of themselves as analytical, thoughtful, reclusive, expressive, mysterious, capable of making friends with anyone, etc? Even if loner and magnetic were used in the same list of description, chances are every human on earth has experienced both moods and remembers experiencing them when reminded by those words. Voila! The description fits like a glove.

Spare me!

Forecasts are an even enlightening experience. An all-in-one chance to flatter, guide and secure unending belief. "Today is an excellent time to throw a party if you're inclined" variety. Heh. Really? If I am inclined, I will throw the party and enjoy myself and credit goes to astrologer for predicting that I will enjoy myself if I throw a party? Success is yours providing you persevere and remain wary of careless mistakes. How can one be wary of careless mistakes? You will save money if you can avoid those impulsive purchases. No! What a miracle!

Failed prediction? Something must have gone wrong! Well.....obviously, no? Apparently not. The mistake is in some elaborate calamity or unnoticed danger in the stars - not something as mundane as a chappie taking a risk that didn't work out.

I have yet to find a prediction that has a clearly defined circumstance of failure and still comes true (except for my very famous political predictions, but they are based on analysis of news, not stars).

For those who wish to convert me, indulge me. Find me an astrologer who will make 10 predictions with very clear definitions of success, and let's explore how many actually come true. I'm not interested in the 10 outstanding successes of a 20 year career. Show me the results of 10 consecutive predictions and then we'll talk.

6

Sai Baba died. My condolences to all who mourn him. Must be quite sad. He was well loved, well followed by many, though inexplicable to many others.

Sathya Sai Baba Samadhi

On the other hand, I am thrilled. He had predicted he would die in 2022. He had predicted two dates at different times. One was at the age of 92/93 another time, 95/96. Death caught him by surprise like anyone else. NONE of these predictions came true. Good. Yet another andhashraddha bites dust.

I don't mean to be rude to the dead (though I don't see how it matters once dead), but these are his own words. If he can make them about his own death, then its fair to repeat them when its time to check on the prediction.

There is this thing with predictions. Listen me out.

Someone says something will happen. Time passes, you forget about it. There are many, many such things. Suddenly something happens, that reminds you of a prediction. Say, your distant cousin dies in a car accident while on a pilgrimage. Suddenly you remember the astrologer who had told you that your sister's life was in danger in travel. Wow. You had been told, and you ignored it and it happened. Never mind that this was a cousin and not sister. Often, it can be a male cousin.

If there is no recognition to trigger it, thousands such "predictions" lie undisturbed on the floor of the sea that is your consciousness. Unaware. If there is recognition, its a match, by virtue of the mechanism of recall itself! So miracle!!! Predictions come true!!!

Predictions of doom serve to enslave people through fear. Oh, the world is going to end, oh this, oh that.... So people turn to this one person who seems to know much about it. To somehow avert the catastrophe headed at them. Well, if you wrote a fiction novel, obviously, you would be the one to know most about it, no?

We "forgive" many, many disturbing things about such "God men". Its not just Sai Baba. Many religious leaders of many religions have some very scary common factors.

  1. Rally people against calamity to save themselves by doing good things.
  2. Good things invariably involve doing as the God man tells them.
  3. Good things invariably involve money - after all such a source of divine wisdom must not waste time on earning a living and must provide maximum knowledge, right?
  4. Allegations of crimes ranging from rapes to sodomy and pedophilia.
  5. Allegations of criminal intimidation.
  6. Shrouds and shrouds of secrecy and mystery.

I think this is a good time to plug in the one divine message the world needs to hear:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeSSwKffj9o

Let the man die in peace, and let the "God man" not be forcibly resurrected. The Dalai Lama had the wisdom to remove emphasis on an age old belief of reincarnation in his own office by making the government in exile democratic. It is the sign of a true leader to shine wisdom and empowerment on people. It is the true sign of a spiritual leader to help people find the best in themselves.